In an alternate reality, the Final Four is going down this weekend and the NCAA men’s basketball national championship game is set for Monday night.
In an alternate reality, MLB fans are salivating over 2020’s first trips to the ballpark, while college baseball is in full swing.
In an alternate reality, the NBA and NHL are in the final leg of their regular seasons, with Giannis Antetokounmpo and LeBron James duking it out for league MVP, and my San Jose Sharks are making an improbable rally for the last playoff spot in the Western Conference.
With the exception of that far-fetched point featuring the Sharks, that reality is our normal. After March Madness, there’s the Masters, then the NBA and NHL playoffs, followed by a summer of baseball complemented by the 2020 Olympic Games. It’s an expectation, something as given as the sun rising and setting each day.
The same goes for the expectation that late spring will arrive and high school and college graduates will culminate years of hard work, walking across a wide, rectangular stage while their families snap photos and cheer them on in celebration.
In the blink of an eye, everything from academics to sports has been altered by COVID-19, colloquially known as the coronavirus. From the aforementioned competitions to the thousands of senior student-athletes who won’t finish their final season, the sports world is no exception to the consequences of a pandemic that is unprecedented for this generation.
While I am grateful for good health and a supportive family, I am humbled by the absence of sports and my friends — and heartbroken for the suffering this virus has caused. Beyond the devastating numbers and graphs that fill my Twitter timeline every morning, there’s no escaping the punch in the stomach: there isn’t a definite end to this, at least not yet.
If you’re a member of the class of 2020 like myself, there’s no getting around it. Staying quarantined inside my childhood bedroom, away from those who I won’t see on a regular basis after I graduate, was not how I envisioned my senior year ending.
For a guy who spent much of his undergraduate experience lamenting the adversity UC Berkeley’s math department threw at me these past few years, boy, would I like to be back with my friends and classmates — especially my fellow seniors.
That’s probably the biggest lesson I’ve taken from this entire experience. We often overlook how lucky we are when things are “normal,” and now that something as simple as an average school day has been taken away, we’re struggling.
During challenging times, it’s no secret that sports provide the perfect outlet — just think about Mike Piazza’s dramatic home run after Sept. 11 or the Red Sox winning the World Series at Fenway Park the same year Boston was rocked by the 2013 marathon bombings. For many fanatics like myself, our world is uplifted by the crack of the bat, the shriek of an official’s whistle and the beauty of sportsmanship across every game.
With the bad hand the world has been dealt, however, it’s easy to crumble, fold and feel sorry for ourselves. In sports terms, it feels like COVID-19 is already up by 20, and it’s only halftime.
That’s when it’s easy to forget that our decisions and our attitude will ultimately affect just how long this ordeal will last. The longer we stay home, milk Netflix and sacrifice our graduation photos, the faster we’ll be ready to return to the things we love most. Sabrina Ionescu and college seniors across the nation will miss their last shots at an improbable tournament run or a national championship, but their sacrifices mean that someday soon, we can stage our comeback.
We’ll miss the opportunities to witness those seniors leading their teams into the spotlight in 2020, but the legacies of those players aren’t defined by their actions when things are going well. They’re defined by when things are at their worst — when a star player gets injured, when a team needs a game-saving play or the opposing team puts on a suffocating full-court press.
It’s the fourth quarter of a tight contest, and COVID-19 is deploying a full-court press on the world. It takes a team effort, led by a team’s senior captains, to make a Cinderella-esque run to the NCAA Final Four. It’s going to take a team effort, led by you, to alleviate this global pandemic.
To the class of 2020 — high schoolers, undergraduates and student-athletes alike — you are worth more than what we’re up against. And that’s exactly why protecting yourself, your friends, your family and your neighbors is the most important thing you can and should do.
Just like axing the NCAA tournament seems borderline criminal, surrendering your spring break trip, final semester shenanigans and graduation ceremony is an unfair pill to swallow. But it’s a sacrifice that the world needs you to make. In the grand scheme of things, flattening the curve now will give ourselves a better future. It’s time for our walk-off hit, our go-ahead goal and our game-winning three.
Sports at all levels of play are in an indefinite hiatus. The NCAA men’s and women’s tournaments are canceled.
But love for your neighbors, sympathy for those suffering and hope for the world are not.